Bestseller and More
Sermon 2 of 6 from the What a Christian Believes series
September 2009 – We begin with the simple observation that the Bible is the bestselling book of all time. More copies have been printed in more languages and read by more people than any other book in history. It is so far out in front of every other book ever written that it stands in a category all by itself. Over six billion copies have been printed, sold, or distributed in over 2200 languages. It is not only the best selling religious book, it is the bestselling book of any and every category. The Bible is number one. The all-time best seller. The undisputed champion.
Every Sunday it is read, studied, quoted and memorized in every nation on every continent. The Bible has now been translated into every major language of the world and work goes on around the clock to translate it into the remaining tribal languages that do not have it.
The Bible is the bestselling book of all time.
So if we had no other reason to study the Bible, its unparalleled popularity must cause us to stop and consider it carefully. But the title of this message is “Best Seller and More.” The question might be put this way: Why is the Bible still the all-time best-selling book in world history? What is it about this ancient book that still draws the attention of this generation? Why are we still attracted to these ancient stories? Is it just our religious background? Do we turn to the Bible because it makes us feel good in times of trouble? Or is there something more?
Every Word and All the Words
Indeed there is, and it is the burden of this message to explain the “something more” about the Bible. For 2000 years Christians have used a particular phrase to describe what they believe about the Bible. We call it “the Word of God.” That alone sets the Bible apart from every other book. When we use the phrase “the Word of God” we mean that the Bible comes from God and records his message to us. That is, when we read the Bible, we are reading the very words of God. Sometimes Christians use the word “inspiration” to describe this truth. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed.” Applied to the Bible, that means that God breathed out the very words of the Bible and the human authors wrote them down. Note three implications of this truth:
1. Inspiration extends to every part of the Bible.
2. Inspiration extends to the very words of the Bible.
3. Inspiration guarantees the absolute truthfulness of the Bible.
-The Bible is infallible (teaching only the truth).
-The Bible is inerrant (incapable of teaching error).
Now that in a nutshell is what we believe about the Bible. It is what we mean when we use the phrase “the Word of God.” But saying it is so doesn’t make it so. Why do we believe the Bible is the Word of God and thus absolutely truthful? How can we be so sure that the Bible stands above every other book ever written? In this message we’re going to attempt to answer those questions.
God breathed out the very words of the Bible and the human authors wrote them down.
Let’s suppose that someone comes up to you and offers you a soft drink you’ve never had before. No doubt you’ll ask a few questions before you take a sip. You want to know its claims (what’s on the label), its credibility (what’s behind it), its consistency (what’s in it), and its certainty (what comes out of it). Let’s apply those four tests to the Bible and see what we find.
In the first place, the Bible clearly claims to be the Word of God. II Peter 1:21 says, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It’s not as if Jeremiah dreamed up his visions or David his psalms or Paul his letters. These men “spoke from God” as the Holy Spirit carried them along. The Greek word for “carried along” pictures a ship being moved through the waters by the power of the wind in the sails. The Holy Spirit is the real power behind the writing of the Bible. He is the divine author. Men like David, Daniel and John were human authors. That’s why the Bible repeatedly uses phrases like “the Lord says” and “the Word of the Lord came” and “the Lord spoke.” Jeremiah 1:9 puts it very plainly: “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth.’“ This is a claim to direct, divine inspiration by God. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul says that his message did not come from man but by direct revelation from God.
The Holy Spirit is the real power behind the writing of the Bible.
The writers of the Bible did not decide to sit down one day and write the Bible. Paul and Paul and Moses didn’t get inspired or “on a roll” like Shakespeare writing his plays or John Grisham writing his novels! They were working in the power of the Holy Spirit who superintended the whole process to ensure the accuracy of everything they wrote. Paul Little (Know Why You Believe, p. 77) offers this helpful clarification:
It is important to realize too that the writers of the Scripture were not mere writing machines. God did not punch them like keys on a typewriter to produce His message. He did not dictate the words, as the biblical view of inspiration has so often been unfairly caricatured. It is quite clear that each writer has a style of his own. Jeremiah does not write like Isaiah, and John does not write like Paul. God worked through the instrumentality of human personality, but so guided and controlled men that what they wrote is what he wanted written.
Whatever else we may say about the Bible, let’s begin with what it says about itself. The Bible claims to be the very Word of God. It never pretends to be “just another book.”
“So what if the Bible claims to be inspired by God? That doesn’t make it so.” True! I could claim to be Tiger Woods but that doesn’t mean I could make a putt over two feet. It’s not just the claim, but what backs up the claim. That brings us to the question of the Bible’s credibility.
Let’s consider credibility under two headings. First of all, accuracy of transmission. After all, everyone understands that the Bible was written between 2000-3500 years ago. And everyone agrees that we don’t possess any of the original manuscripts of the Bible. How do we know that what we are reading is an accurate transmission of what the human authors originally wrote? The answer for the Old Testament is that the Jews were almost fanatical in their insistence on accuracy. When they copied a manuscript by hand, they counted the total number of letters and figured out the middle letter of the entire book. Once a scribe finished copying that book, if his middle letter of the copy was different, the entire book was presumed to be incorrectly copied and was destroyed. The scribes even counted the various letters and compared manuscripts not just word for word but letter for letter. That’s why the existing manuscripts of the Old Testament are virtually identical.
If you count full and partial manuscripts together, we have 14,000 manuscripts of the Old Testament and over 24,000 manuscripts of the New Testament in various languages. The Bible is by far the best-attested ancient book in the world. There are more copies, earlier, and more accurately recorded, than for any other book from ancient history.
The Bible is by far the best-attested ancient book in the world.
Second, consider the Bible’s amazing historical accuracy. In general, we may say that historical research has tended to confirm every major factual claim in the Bible. For many years, the critics claimed that no one named Pontius Pilate ever existed. But the archaeologists uncovered a stone tablet in Caesarea with his name on it. The Bible also mentions a tribe of people called the Hittites, which the critics claimed never existed. But today scholars know that the Hittite empire existed throughout the land we now call Turkey. The critics have been wrong about so many things. They claimed there was never a ruler named Belshazzar. They denied there was a king named Sargon. Both claims were proven wrong. Some radical scholars said that the whole story of David was a myth, that there never was a King David at all. They said that because they couldn’t find any contemporaneous proof. But a few years ago at a place called Tel Dan, archeologists discovered an inscription that mentions the “House of David,” which is the biblical term for David’s kingdom. Chuck Colson (The Faith, p. 51) summarizes the evidence this way:
Before the end of the 1950s, no less than 25,000 biblical sites had been substantiated by archaeological discoveries; there has been no discovery proving the Bible to be false. No other religious document now or in history has ever been found that accurate.
Colson goes on to note (p. 52) that “Paul Johnson, the great British historian and popular author, says it is no longer the men of faith but rather the skeptics who should fear the course of further discovery."
On and on we could go, giving hundreds of examples where historical research and archeological discoveries have confirmed the truth of the biblical record. Please understand. I am not arguing that archeology “proves” the Bible, only that if the Bible is true, archeology helps confirm that fact.
We have nothing to fear from the closest scrutiny of the Bible. It will stand the test of any fair investigation.
I am not arguing that archeology “proves” the Bible, only that if the Bible is true, archeology helps confirm that fact.
Two important lines of evidence establish the Bible’s internal consistency. First, there is the testimony of fulfilled prophecy. Someone has calculated that fully one-fourth of the Bible was prophecy when it was written. The 66 books of the Bible make hundreds of specific prophecies regarding people, places, kingdoms, wars, and nations. But the greatest predictive prophecy deals with the person of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament contains over 100 predictions regarding Christ, including the place of his birth, the manner of his birth, the family into which he would be born, the scope of his ministry, the nature of his death, and the miracle of his resurrection. All of these prophecies were written down between 400-1500 years before his birth. Yet each of them was fulfilled down to the letter. Mathematician Peter Stoner calculated the odds of anyone fulfilling just eight of those predictions by chance. The odds came out to one in ten to the seventeenth power. If you took that many silver dollars and scattered them across Texas, they would cover the state two feet deep. Now take one of those silver dollars and mark it with a red X and throw it in at random into that pile of silver dollars. Then blindfold a volunteer and ask him to find the marked silver dollar on his first try. That’s the same odds that eight predictions about Christ could be fulfilled by chance. Yet Christ fulfilled over 100 prophecies! (You can read Peter Stoner’s book online.)
Second, consider the amazing unity of the Bible. We are accustomed to thinking of the Bible as one book, but it actually consists of 66 books written by 40 authors in three different languages over a period of 1500 years. Yet the Bible is one book because it contains an amazing unity of theme from Genesis to Revelation.
Jesus Christ is the theme of the Bible.
How do we explain the unity of the Bible? The Old Testament points to the coming of Christ, the gospels to the appearance of Christ, Acts to the preaching of Christ, the epistles to the body of Christ, and Revelation to the return of Christ. Jesus Christ is the theme of the Bible. This amazing unity amid diversity is one of the great proofs of the Bible’s supernatural origin.
Having said all that, how can we be sure the Bible is the Word of God? Consider one more line of evidence: the evidence of changed lives. History tells us that wherever the Bible goes, men and women are changed forever. Whole cultures are transformed from devil-worship, cannibalism and warfare into societies in which human life is respected and human dignity established. If you doubt it, ask any missionary what happens when the gospel is preached. I have listened to the people of Paraguay praise God in the Guarani language. I have seen with my own eyes young people in Haiti come to Christ and be set free from witchcraft and demonism.
History tells us that wherever the Bible goes, men and women are changed forever.
I have worshipped in Russian churches with believers who were persecuted for their faith by the communists. I met converts from Hinduism at a church in Nepal. I know believers in China who risk everything for their faith in Christ. I attended a service in Jerusalem with nearly 500 Christians, many of them Messianic Jews. Everywhere the Bible is preached, it radically changes hearts, lives, families, cities, cultures, and entire nations.
Ironside and the Agnostic
You may question the Bible if you like, but you cannot deny its power to transform the human heart. Early in his ministry, Harry Ironside was living in the San Francisco Bay area, working with the Brethren. One evening as he was walking through the city he came upon a group of Salvation Army workers holding a meeting on the corner of Market Street and Grant Avenue. When they recognized Ironside they asked if he would give his testimony. So he did, telling how God had saved him through faith in the bodily death and literal resurrection of Jesus.
As he was speaking, he noticed that on the edge of the crowd there was a well-dressed man who had taken a card from his pocket and had written something on it. As Ironside finished his talk the man came forward, lifted his hat, and very politely handed him the card. On one side was his name, which Ironside immediately recognized. The man was one of the early socialists who had made a name for himself lecturing not only for socialism but also against Christianity. As Ironside turned the card over he read, “Sir, I challenge you to debate with me the question ‘Agnosticism versus Christianity’ in the Academy of Science Hall next Sunday afternoon at four o’clock. I will pay all expenses.”
Ironside reread the card aloud and then replied somewhat like this. “I am very much interested in this challenge. I will be glad to agree to this debate on the following conditions: namely, that in order to prove that this gentleman has something worth debating about, he will promise to bring with him to the lecture hall next Sunday two people, whose qualifications I will give in a moment, as proof that agnosticism is of real value in changing human lives and building true character.”
“First, he must promise to bring with him one man who was for years what we commonly call a ‘down-and-outer.’ I am not particular as to the exact nature of the sins that had wrecked his life and made him an outcast from society-whether a drunkard, or a criminal of some kind, or a victim of his sensual appetite-but a man who for years was under the power of evil habits from which he could not deliver himself. Then on some occasion he entered one of this man’s meetings and heard his glorification of agnosticism and his denunciations of the Bible and Christianity. As he listened to such an address he was so deeply stirred that he went away from that meeting saying, ‘Henceforth, I too am an agnostic!’ and as a result of imbibing that particular philosophy found that a new power had come into his life. The sins he once loved he now hates, and righteousness and goodness are now the ideals of his life. He is now an entirely new man, a credit to himself, and an asset to society-all because he is an agnostic.”
“Secondly, I would like my opponent to promise to bring with him one woman who was once a poor, hopeless outcast, the slave of evil passions and the victim of man’s corrupt living, utterly lost, ruined and wretched because of her life of sin. But this woman also entered a hall where this man was loudly proclaiming his agnosticism and ridiculing the message of the Holy Scriptures. As she listened, hope was born in her heart, and she said, ‘This is just what I need to deliver me from the slavery of sin!’ She followed the teaching and became an intelligent agnostic or infidel. As a result, her whole being revolted against the degradation of the life she had been living. She fled from the den of iniquity where she had been held captive for so long; and today, rehabilitated, she has won her way back to an honored position in society and is living a clean, virtuous, happy life-all because she is an agnostic.”
“Now,” he said, addressing the man who had presented him with his card and the challenge, “if you will promise to bring these two people with you as examples of what agnosticism can do, I will promise to meet you at the Academy of Science Hall at four o’clock next Sunday, and I will bring with me at the very least 100 men and women who for years lived in just such sinful degradation as I have tried to depict, but who have been gloriously saved through believing the gospel which you ridicule. I will have these men and women with me on the platform as witnesses to the miraculous saving power of Jesus Christ and as present-day proof of the truth of the Bible.”
Dr. Ironside then turned to the Salvation Army captain and asked, “Captain, have you any who could go with me to such a meeting?” She exclaimed with enthusiasm, “We can give you 40 at least, just from this one corps, and we will give you a brass band to lead the procession!”
“Fine,” Dr. Ironside answered. “Now, sir, I will have no difficulty picking up 60 others from the various missions, gospel halls, and evangelical churches of the city. So if you will promise to bring two such exhibits as I have described, I will come marching in at the head of the procession, with the band playing ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers,’ and I will be ready for the debate.”
Apparently the man who had made the challenge had some sense of humor, for he smiled wryly and waved his hand in a deprecating kind of way as if to say “Nothing doing!” and then edged out of the crowd while the bystanders applauded Ironside and the others.
You Still Have to Make Up Your Mind
Is the Bible the Word of God? I cannot “prove” that to you.
As the story of Ironside the agnostic demonstrates, there have always been those who believe and those who choose not to believe that the Bible is true. Yet the Bible remains the bestselling book of all time.
The Bible has, amazingly-no doubt with supernatural grace-survived its critics. Thirty to sixty million copies are produced annually. The harder tyrants try to eliminate it and skeptics dismiss it, the better read it becomes. Voltaire, for example, who passionately sought to erase the Christian influence during the French Revolution, predicted that within a hundred years no one would read the Bible. When his home was later auctioned off after his death, it was purchased by the French Bible Society. As one pastor said, the Bible survives its pallbearers (The Faith, pp. 55-56).
Is the Bible the Word of God? I cannot “prove” that to you. You still have to make up your own mind. But if you have doubts, I encourage you to read it, study its claims, observe its message, and check out the facts for yourself. I have done that and I have also read the claims of the skeptics. As for me and my house, we will stand on the Bible as the Word of God.
I submit to you that the Bible will stand the toughest test and the hardest scrutiny because it is indeed the Word of God. That’s why after 2000 years it is still the best-selling book in the world. No other book contains the plan of salvation. No other book can tell you how to get to heaven.
The Bible Tells Me So
One Sunday after I had finished preaching a young girl pressed some paper into my hand. She said she had written something as a gift to me. When I looked at it later, it turned out to be a little handwritten book called “God really does love us.” On the first page she drew a cross with a heart and the sun shining upon it. The caption reads “God loves us!”
Thank God for the Bible because without it, we would never know about Jesus. And without Jesus, we could never be saved.
The second page shows a young girl kneeling before Jesus on the cross. She is telling him she loves him. The final page shows Jesus on the cross with the words, “God really did die for me!!” Where did she learn such truth? I think I know the answer. Many years ago most of us learned to sing a song that goes like this:
Jesus love me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong, they are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me Yes Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
Indeed it does. Thank God for the Bible because without it, we would never know about Jesus. And without Jesus, we could never be saved. But the Bible is true and it is the Word of God. If you still have doubts, I encourage you to read it for yourself. When you do, you will discover for yourself the most wonderful truth in the world–Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
Questions to Consider
1. What does it mean to call the Bible “the Word of God?”
2. How would you explain the concept of inerrancy to someone else?
3. Which “proof” of the Bible seems most important to you?
4. Can you think of any ways in which the message of the Bible has changed your life? Why are some people not changed at all by the message of the Bible?
5. What does it mean to say that the Bible is “inspired” by God? Why is that concept crucial to our understanding?
6. What does fulfilled prophecy teach us about A) the Bible and B) Jesus Christ?
Scriptures to Ponder
2 Timothy 3:16
Archaeological Study Bible
Can I Trust the Bible? by Darrell Bock
Jesus by Tim LaHaye
Know What You Believe by Paul Little
Know Why You Believe by Paul Little
The Faith by Charles Colson
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